Safety: Never Leave the Office Without It

If you're struggling to list the safety programs in place to help protect a sales rep in her car beyond the seat belt and airbag you're not alone.

by James P. Kaletta

Pick a day, any day for a typical field sales professional and it might go something like this: She sits in a meeting fire sprinklers above and a wall diagram outlining the steps in the event of an emergency. She calls on her customers who have a safety process that includes a litany of rules, programs and standards to keep her safe while on site. This safety process is the result of several hundred training hours spent on safety each year, everything from bloodborne pathogens to CPR. The sales professional gets into her car, where she spends about 70 percent of her time each day, and ...

Until recently, companies focused most, if not all, of their safety time and budget on programs designed to keep employees safe inside their own walls. Once they were on the road ...

There's that void again.

"Outside of manufacturing, it was quite difficult to connect the rest of our organization to safety because the risks seemed less obvious," says Maureen Mazurek, Monsanto's director of Worldwide Vehicle Safety, whose company in a watershed year back in 2001 experienced a string of serious accidents all occurring outside of the plants. "It was a bad year, but when we looked at the history, it wasn't so unusual. From that day forward, we took the stance that every vehicle accident is preventable."

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), 43 percent of workplace fatalities happen inside a car or truck. For companies striving to build world-class safety programs, such a statistic adds a new and sometimes overlooked dimension.

Return on Investment Not the Priority

Like with any large outlay of money, when the decision was made to create a vehicle safety program in a large corporation such as Monsanto where none existed, you would expect management to request some sort of return-on-investment (ROI) analysis. On the contrary, according to Mazurek, financial returns were never discussed and do not factor into the equation to this day. "I know it sounds cliché and almost too good to be true, but this really isn't about saving money, it's about saving lives. As stated in the Monsanto pledge, we strive to provide our employees with a safe work environment, even if that environment is traveling along a highway."

Taking the place of ROI are measurements like accidents per million miles and injuries. Since the inception of its vehicle safety program, Monsanto has seen the number of accidents cut in half, from nine per million miles in 2002 to fewer than four. Such figures could be converted to financial equivalents, such as increased productivity and a decrease in insurance and maintenance cost, but Mazurek likes to put it another way. "Above all, it means more people go home safe and healthy each day." If you think the lack of financial measurements means less pressure to produce, think again. In a way, it's greater. Says Mazurek, "If we don't do our jobs, there is a greater risk of something terrible happening to a fellow employee."

Collaboration

Since there is no formal OSHA standard for company-car drivers, Mazurek reached out to other organizations when she was beginning her program, hoping to understand their best practices. She was surprised by the response. "Everyone we spoke to leasing companies, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies was eager to help. The sharing of ideas and information was like nothing I had ever experienced, and then it dawned on me: It takes more than one person to create most accidents. If our drivers are operating more safely, their drivers benefit as well."

Armed with her new-found information, Mazurek went looking for an easy win; something to show progress and get people thinking about safe driving.

She partnered with Safety Management Solutions, a safety consulting firm specializing in teams, safe driving and distribution safety issues. Says Sherry Coiner, vice president of Safety Management Solutions: "Monsanto came to us after benchmarking one of our other customers, Johnson & Johnson. They wanted to reach their field professionals using a variety of tools and techniques. We looked at their business and created e-learning courses and e-communications tailored to their unique exposures. The focus was on the four most common mistakes drivers make, in addition to ways of making safe driving a priority."

Says Mazurek of the work Safety Management did: "It was attractive enough to get people's attention, and smart enough to deliver its message: that accidents can be prevented with the right knowledge, skills and attitude."

According to Coiner, that attitude starts with drivers taking responsibility for their driving not always an easy task considering the audience. "Salespeople create unique driving situations and hazards," says Coiner. "These are folks for whom being able to multi-task is a competitive advantage. Any safe driving program has to remind them that driving requires their full attention."

Support for the Program

Sustaining that commitment and creating a workplace that values safe driving takes involvement from all areas of the organization. Monsanto set up field safety teams in every world area it served, with the intention of eventually turning over to them ownership of the program. Reporting standards were developed and safety was written into performance expectations. "Field professionals are goal-oriented," says Mazurek. "A training program can't do what it's supposed to unless you make safe driving a measurement of performance."

If a field professional is not on the road, they are most likely in their homes or meetings. Organizing face-to-face training is challenging. The e-learning course was chosen as the first initiative for its effectiveness and scalability they could quickly train thousands of professionals around the world. Behind-the-wheel training soon followed and today, almost 10,000 employees have participated.

Monsanto extends its safe driving program beyond employees, offering it to family members and assisting community groups. It's another example of companies ratcheting down their competitive nature toward each other when it comes to safety, but also is a reminder of the very unique and very real situation field safety professionals face. Generally speaking, the public does not wander around inside a company's complex. On the road, however, employees come into contact (or better yet, try to avoid contact) with citizens every day. The more safe drivers there are on the road, the more everyone is safe.

Sidebar: The Four Most Common Driving Errors

1. Failure to scan ahead for hazards, such as pedestrians and fast-building traffic.
2. Not leaving enough following distance (a vehicle crusing at 50 mph travels 83 feet per second).
3. Not paying attention at intersections.
4. Improper braking techniques.

James P. Kaletta, M.S.,CSP, is the president of Safety Management Solutions (www .Intelligentdriver.com), located in Chicago. SMS provides online training, communications and consulting to companies including Johnson & Johnson, Monsanto, Walgreens, Abbott Labs, Ingersoll Rand and Alberto Culver. Prior to starting SMS in 1994, Kaletta was the director of consulting for the National Safety Council. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Lori.

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